Afghanistan is the world’s most dangerous place for women.
Following the 2001 invasion by the US and the UK, the UN established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), control of which was assumed by NATO in 2003. The pretext of the invasion was to find Osama Bin Laden, a comic book villain, who purportedly lived batman style in a network of underground tunnels, destroying the largely mythical organisation of Al-Quaeda and remove the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime.
Now back in 2001, Afghanistan wasn’t a very happy place. A pawn in the Cold War it had already been at war for nearly 25 years at the time of the invasion. Women’s rights were being systematically destroyed under the Taliban regime as it blended Sharia Law with the Pashtun tribal code to enforce patriarchal rule. Women were banned from employment and education, forced to wear the burka and forbidden from leaving their homes unaccompanied. Prior to the invasion, major international human rights and women’s rights organisations were raising serious concerns about the situation of women in a country which used to be a mecca in the 60s for young Westerners eager for exoticism mixed with modernity, an essential stop-off on the Hippie Trail.
During the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (96-01), the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan smuggled footage of public executions and beheadings out of the country, while secretly educating girls. The outrage of what was happening to women in Afghanistan gave a thin veil of liberal legitimacy to the invasion, as those unconvinced by the threat of cartoon villains and mythical networks of evildoers, responded to the very real dangers that Afghanistan women were facing and convinced themselves that only the West could save these poor fallen creatures.
Today, after ten years of occupation, the situation isn’t any better. The burka is no longer enforced and women have the formal right to be educated and employed, however in practice that right is all but worthless, when girls attending school are systematically poisoned with nerve gas. All the while the safety and security of women is practically non-existent. Despite billions being poured into the country both in military expenditure and in international aid, women live under a continual threat of rape, torture and violence. And among the worst offenders are the NATO trained police force and US backed politicians. In March, Hamid Karzai, the US backed president of Afghanistan, endorsed an edict by the Ulema Council, the country’s highest Islamic authority, saying that women were worth less than men. In the intervening months, the situation for women within the country has surpassed even its previous brutality.
Last week, Kabir Ranjbar, a former MP and the President of the Afghan Lawyers Union, was arrested for the kidnapping of young girl. The girl had been kidnapped approximately nine months ago from Kabul. The capital of Afghanistan. During nine months she had been continuously raped, and gave birth to a baby a few weeks ago. In a country where women’s healthcare, ante-natal services, birthing provision and post-partum care is negligible to non-existent, the conditions in which women can be kidnapped, impregnated and forced to give birth are sealed. It should be pointed out that this is not the first time that he has allegedly kidnapped and raped a young girl. On that occasion he was released after a few hours in custody.
Also this week, Lal Bibi and her family travelled to Kabul to try to persuade government officials to prosecute the men who abducted her, beat her and chained her to a wall while repeatedly raping her. Although the men have been detained the chances of prosecution are slim, as it gets dismissed as a trivial matter of (illegal) forced marriage, under which there can be no rape, as defenders of the rapists contend that the woman was traded as part of an inter-familial dispute. The men are part of the local police force, trained by the occupation forces to ensure law and order and ensure the safety and security of the population. Her family, semi-nomadic Pashtuns, regretfully state that they must now kill her to restore family honour if the men are not punished, while she herself has stated that if no prosecutions are brough she will self-immoliate, like nearly 100 other women in Western Afghanistan in the past year.
In an entirely unrelated incident (hey, every week’s a busy week for Afghan misogynist), another woman was tortured and executed after allegedly having relationships with two men, in front of a grinning crowd of men. The spectators cheered as she was shot nine times at close range for adultery. The men who had been having affairs with her got together to stitch together an impromptu courtroom, where she was found guilty of adultery and condemned to death – the sentence was carried out within the hour.
Now before you get all snooty about backward societies and their funny ways, it is worth remembering that when I was 18 – the same age as Lal Bibi, rape within marriage was not illegal under UK law. Before throwing up hands in horror at police officers abducting, torturing and raping women with immunity, think back on the case of the two officers who were acquitted of the abduction and rape of a young woman in New York a few years ago. Before wondering at what kind of society creates a situation where a woman feels so humiliated by a rape that she kills herself, reflect on the Scottish teenager who overdosed after being forced to hold up her underwear in court. Before questioning what kind of incompetent police force can’t catch such blatantly obvious sexual predators, review the track record of Operation Sapphire, the specialist unit within the Met. established to
cover up investigate sexual offences. Before being amazed at lawmakers being able to beat and rape with impunity, think of Bill Walker, who never faced charges for rape and has just been released on bail despite over 30 charges of assault being laid, including assault to injury and permanent disfigurement.
Moreover it is worth remembering that this is happening in a country which has been under occupation for ten years, which has had hundreds of billions of dollars pour into it, and yet one in which one in ten children die under the age of one. Our track record in Afghanistan is shameful. Under the pretext of “liberation” and “women’s rights” they have contributed to the continuance of a brutal regime which sees women as property and lives as cheap. The Taliban were created and supported by the US in the face of the Soviet invasion, when Afghanistan was one of the hotspots of the Cold War, yet opposition to poppies which provided a lucrative source of income for both Western banks and pharmaceutical firms, despite the misery that it caused to ordinary Westerners, led them to favour the Northern Alliance – a gang of warlords no less brutal as the Taliban.
While traditional Afghan values may be steeped in patriarchal traditions, they could not be enforced in the manner in which they have been without the collusion of the police, that collusion would not have been possible without the support of the state, and that state would not be so powerful if it did not have its Western puppetmasters. The invasion and the money which has supported it has had no positive effect on the people of Afghanistan, who now have a tribal dispute resolution system, designed for amicable agreements between families in conflict to be devised, being used to enforce suppression and as a tool to justify state sponsored abuse. The training given to the local police forces based on US values of domination, enforcement and active response have no effect on the warlords who run the country, but only disempower those who would challenge – leaving the US free to do its deals with those self-same warlords, all under the guise of peace and freedom.